SAN JOSE, Calif. – The so-called TV whites spaces around 700 MHz appear less fertile a ground for the next-generation of Internet of Things applications for a handful of entrepreneurs who are pulling up stakes, moving up to the 900 MHz band with a new venture called Weightless-N.
The Weightless Special Interest Group behind the effort retains its ambitious goal — to create an open standard for a $2 wireless chipset that can send data five kilometers in cities (20 km in rural areas) and run 10 years on an AA battery. In the 900 MHz unlicensed Industrial Scientific and Medical (ISM) band the group’s pending specification will get a maximum data rate of just 500 bits per second.
But you can do a lot even with that tiny bit of free bandwidth for sensors such as thermometers, electric meters, alarms, and systems that monitor parking lots, says William Webb, the chief executive of the Weightless SIG. NWave Technologies Ltd. officially joins the group today, donating its ultra narrowband technology as the foundation for the Weightless-N spec the group aims to complete by April.
The NWave approach uses a 200 MHz swath of spectrum tightly filtered to reduce noise so that even a low-power signal has a high link budget and thus a relatively long range. NWave already has products deployed in Russia, the US, and the UK.
Weightless will create and license a standard based on NWave’s technology, giving away for free the spec for end nodes, but charging a royalty still to be determined for base stations. That’s the same model it proposed for its prior effort in TV white spaces.
The group hopes to form a patent pool for anyone who wants to participate. The space already has multiple competitors.
The biggest competition will come from a 900 MHz version of WiFi based on the pending 802.11ah standard. Many WiFi giants, including the Atheros division of Qualcomm, see this space as key to the future of WiFi in the Internet of Things, although products may not start a significant ramp until 2016, one company representative said.
Separately, a company called Sigfox already competes with NWave using similar ISM band technology. It has struck partnerships with service providers in France, Spain, and the UK.
“Our open standard will gives network operators more freedom,” says Webb. “Once we get a spec up and running, I think it will be hard for them to compete, and I hope they will join us.”
Sigfox is also working with an emerging Low Throughput Networks effort in the ETSI standards group. Chip vendor Semtech and Kimeggi Consulting also participate in the effort, which published a 24-page document describing its protocols and interfaces.
“ETSI wants to have an IoT standard, but it looks to me like Sigfox and others may not be that keen to open up their technologies, so I’d say it could still be two years away,” says Webb.
Another rival is Senaptic, a startup spun out of UK consulting firm Plextek Ltd., which appears to have similar ISM band technology for the IoT, Webb noted.
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